A Short Story: End of the Line (Complete Story)

End of the Line

by David Lavallee

Illustrations by Nathan King

He had been standing in line for what seemed like ages. Looking at his watch, he was reminded that it had died. Checking the time was a nervous tick, and no matter how often he looked, it would always be three thirty-three. The park was flooded with people, and their raised voices mixed inharmoniously in the scorching August air. From time to time he would attempt to eavesdrop on a nearby conversation, but it demanded too much concentration. His focus was elsewhere. The slide captured his attention.

Adamson’s Water Park attracted hoards of customers during the summer season. It housed a wave pool with an artificial white sand beach. People from all walks of life fought for a spot along the fake shore. Most days, young men and women dominated the landscape, driven by a primal need to showcase their bodies. Families and older couples retreated to the picnic tables. Circling the park, a slow-moving river carried laid-back patrons who rested on tubes. It served as an escape for anyone wishing to dodge the crowds. A number of small water slides attracted children, and anyone looking for a safe thrill. A step up from those, Adamson’s provided larger slides for the more adventurous. They each scored a seven on the ride intensity scale established by the Society of Amusement Park Standards (SAPS). But none of these rides compared to Free Fall. Free Fall scored a ten plus, which is the highest intensity rating in the world. Riders disappeared into a dark tunnel, dropping so fast that the name of the slide became terribly appropriate. It was impossible to tell where they came out on the other side. Free Fall towered over the park, casting a long shadow from entrance to exit.

“Let’s just forget it, Tom. The line’s too long. We’ve been waiting forever, and my stomach’s upset.” Mary rubbed her exposed mid-section. Tom checked his watch again. “Stop that! Why’d you even wear that thing?” Mary asked.

“I…I guess I didn’t think. Force of habit,” Tom replied. For a moment, he considered Mary’s plea to give up waiting. Just for a moment. “We’ve waited this long. The choice was made back there.” He pointed past hundreds of people. Mary scowled.

They were at least a couple of hours away, and they had already waited for one. Free Fall only allows for one rider every thirty seconds, and that is when everything operates smoothly. Some people decide in the final moment that they want to turn back, but that is not an option. Once the Point of No Return is crossed, all riders enter into a contract with the park that says they have to go down the slide. If they panic and cause a disturbance, the slide operators have the authority to force them down. The park depends on a steady flow of bodies. This is the reason minors are forbidden from Free Fall. Only adults with the power to choose for themselves are allowed to cross the final threshold.

“I don’t think I can go through with it. My stomach is really starting to turn over,” Mary said.

“I think it’s in your head. You don’t want to go down the slide. I get it. Wait until we reach the Point of No Return, and then leave if you have to.” Tom wiped the sweat from his forehead and felt the radiating burn of a distant sun. Then he looked at his watch again.

Mary often faced the accusation from Tom that she never seemed to follow anything through to completion. She always had an excuse to give up. When Tom first proposed, she claimed that she needed more time to decide. A year later, when he proposed again, she told him that she no longer believed in the institution of marriage. “Can’t we love each other without wearing shackles?” She protested. Tom heartily disagreed with her newfound philosophy. “There’s freedom in binding,” he assured her. But all she could say was, “That makes no sense!”

During the next half hour, Tom and Mary observed their surroundings. A pigeon pecked at a dropped pretzel, and Tom wondered if it was true that birds were unable to pass gas. He recalled a conversation from his youth in which another boy claimed to have fed a seagull some Alka-Seltzer. The boy stuffed it in some bait and watched the bird eat without a care. He laughed with delight to see the bird crash into the ocean, dying from the inside. Mary watched a little girl eat a strawberry ice cream cone. The ice cream dribbled down the cone and covered the girl’s hands. Why doesn’t she wipe it up? Mary thought. The girl ate, showing little concern for the sticky pink fluid that flowed down her sleeve. An old clown caught their attention when he accidentally popped a balloon animal. Neither Tom nor Mary had ever seen a clown fail at such a simple trick, and though they despised clowns, it made them feel sorry for the elderly man behind the red nose. They felt worse when his audience of captivated children began to sob. One girl screamed, “It’s dead! He killed it!” The clown fled the scene, forgetting his bag.

Nathan King
“Some people decide in the final moment that they want to turn back, but that is not an option. “
Illustration by Nathan King

The couple moved closer to the Point of No Return. No one could mistake it. The park went to great lengths to ensure that their customers knew the arrangement. In bold blue letters it read, NO TURNING BACK. MUST GO FORWARD. ABSOLUTELY NO EXCEPTIONS. Along the way, they posted many smaller signs describing their ride policy. Tom read one of them aloud to Mary. “Free Fall is the most thrilling water slide in the world. Because of this, it attracts hundreds of thousands of committed riders. Adamson’s Water Park is focused on providing the most people with the most fun. We created the Point of No Return as a means to maximize fun. We understand that many would reconsider riding Free Fall once they reached the top. This would create massive delays and much disturbance, which would severely tarnish the experience of the other riders. The Point of No Return is exactly that. If you cannot commit, please consider any of our other fun water slides. If you are serious about having a good time, pass the Point of No Return and prepare to have a blast.”

“What did you eat that made your stomach upset?” Tom asked.

“Nothing but an egg and some toast. I eat it all the time,” Mary said.

“Maybe it was a bad egg. We’re only a few minutes away. Are you in or out?” Mary held her stomach. Tom moved close to her face, as if to kiss her, and whispered, “I want you to go up with me.”

Adamson’s used to station low-level employees at the threshold, but found that they were often too lenient with riders. They lacked the authority to prevent people from breaking their contract to ride. Once people had discovered that the Point of No Return was less than it claimed to be, the occurrence of disruptions skyrocketed. Free Fall experienced massive ride delays, which forced the park to get more serious. The entrance is now guarded by a park manager and a member of the security unit. Since the change, only one person has come back through the threshold: a sixty-three year old woman who dropped dead of a heart attack.

“I don’t know, I don’t think I should do this,” Mary said. Tom rolled his eyes and looked away. They were only a few paces away from the final threshold. “I really can’t.”

“And why can’t you? Is it because your stomach hurts, or because you’re afraid?” Tom asked sternly. He stood at the entrance of the Point of No Return. The two park officials looked at him, arms folded. “Just come with me!” Tom yelled.

“I can’t! Go, but I’m not. I shouldn’t,” Mary said as tears formed in her eyes.

“Sir, are you riding Free Fall, or are you turning around? You have to decide immediately,” said the park manager. Tom peered back at Mary, who now had tears streaming down her face, and then took the final step through the threshold.

“Ma’am, are you going to join him?” asked the security guard. The couple gazed at each other, separated by an impassable gulf.

“No,” Mary said. “I’m pregnant.”

Time stopped.

Tom pressed on the gate that divided them, but it would not budge.  “Mary!  Mary!  Why didn’t you tell me?  I can’t ride this.  You have to let me go!” Tom pleaded with the guards.

“Sir, you know our policy.  We can’t let you through.  You have no choice but to go down the slide,” said the park manager.  Mary raised her hand and motioned for Tom to go.  Then she held her stomach and walked away with her eyes toward the sky.  Tom watched her disappear into the crowd, from behind bars.  “Please, sir, I need you to move forward.”

Twenty minutes of steady upward flow left Tom alone with his thoughts, and that much closer to the top of the slide.  At first, he tried looking for Mary through the barricades.  All of his cares were on her, and more specifically, her news.  His misconceptions about her refusal to join him had washed away in a moment of truth, leaving behind only anxiety and endless questions.  But with each step up, each step nearer the mouth of Free Fall, Tom’s concerns drifted toward himself.  So by the time he had spent twenty minutes on the other side of the Point of No Return, Tom had all but forgotten about the unborn.

A bald man with a muscular build stood ahead of Tom.  The back of his head was red, and beads of sweat took turns trying to cool his scorched skin.  Tom stared, and probably knew this man’s head better than anyone else in the world.  It was something for his eyes while he waded in his emotions.

Behind Tom, a young woman whistled the tune of Oh My Darling, Clementine.

“Maybe you shouldn’t whistle that song,” Tom said.

“Excuse me?’ She replied.

“Don’t you know what happens to Clementine?” He asked.

“Who cares?  Geez, if it’s bothering you, I’ll stop,” she said, with the slightest hint of sarcasm.   “It’s just a tune to a song no one knows, anyway.”

“I’m sorry if I upset you.  Please, keep whistling,” Tom said.  The young woman shook her head.

“You kind of spoiled the mood.  Anyway, it doesn’t matter.  We’re almost there.”  She pointed past the bald man’s head and to the final stretch of the climb.

The summit of Free Fall can only be accessed by a gondola lift.  Three passengers at a time are transported the remaining distance.  Hovering hundreds of feet in the air, they are provided with a spectacular view of the entire park.  When Tom stepped into the gondola, the heavy stench of rotten eggs assaulted him.   The odor was so terrible that it nearly prevented him from imagining the cables snapping and the box dropping forever.  He wondered if the water slide would smell the same.

The young woman clung to the metal bar lining the inside while the bald man knocked on the windows.

“This is it!” yelled the bald man.

“It’s almost over,” said the woman.

Tom said nothing, but thought of Mary somewhere distant.

Finally, and with a screech, the door opened.  Tom’s nostrils burned.

The bald man burst out of the gondola and jumped head first into the black abyss that was Free Fall.  For only a moment, the others heard his deep voice until it faded into nothing.

“That’s ill advised.”  Tom hadn’t noticed the old man, or his southern twang, until he spoke.  He wore an unbuttoned plaid shirt with the sleeves rolled up past his elbows.  A half-smoked cigar rested on his gums, and he twirled it with slender, gray fingers.  His silver hair fell to his shoulders and waved in the breeze.  He looked out through sunglasses that were darker than death at night, and motioned for the young woman.

Nate King
“The time for chosin’ is over…”
Illustration by Nathan King

“I’m having second thoughts!” She yelled.  The old man blew smoke out of his nostrils and smiled from ear to ear.

“The time for chosin’ is over, little lady.   Now you lay down there and that’ll be that,” said the old man.

“What if I don’t want to?” She asked.

“Well, then we have us a problem.” The old man stepped toward the young woman.  “Most people want out.  It’s plain old-fashioned human nature.  I know it.  You know it.  But we’re beyond that nonsense now.”

When the young woman tried to jump back into the gondola, the doors shut and the cables took it away.  Tom saw her eyes widen as she shivered and shuffled toward the entrance of Free Fall.

“That’s right.  Remember, you’re supposed to enjoy this,” said the old man.  He helped her get into the proper position, with arms folded across the chest.  Ash fell on her forehead.  She didn’t make a sound when he pushed her down.

“Alright, last of all, it’s you.  Step up here, and that’ll be the end of it,” said the old man.

Tom didn’t move.  He simply gazed into the old man’s crackled complexion.  Deep lines crisscrossed his face, disappearing down into his sunken chest.  If he wasn’t dressed like a man, Tom thought, he would be only a wrinkled thing.  A great terror rippled out of his heart, filling his veins with despair and washing his mind in dread.  All wrong. It’s all wrong, Tom repeated to himself.   He was a child, huddled in a dark corner.

“I’m sorry.  Please let me go back,” Tom said.

“Son, I don’t have the patience for this.  It’s time for you to go down the slide, so let’s go,” said the old man.

“No,” Tom said breathlessly.  The old man threw his cigar to the ground.

“I have all authority to throw you down this slide!  Now come here!”

The old man reached out his long arms to grab Tom.  Tom wrapped his hands around the old man’s wrists and tried to toss him back, but he could not resist the forward momentum.  The old man wrapped his hands around Tom’s neck and opened his mouth, as if to swallow him whole.  Tom desperately swiped at the old man’s sunglasses.  Two empty sockets glared back at him, and the old man smiled as his grip tightened.  Locked together, they both fell  into the dark pit of the slide.  Tom let go of the old man, and everything else, as he plummeted without ever touching the sides.

A twisted figure splashed down at the bottom.  He stood up in shallow water and turned around.  There he waited, a long time, for the other one to come out.  Reaching blindly, he found something.  It was a watch — ticking away.

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A Short Story: End of the Line (Part 2 of 2)

(Part 1)

.  .  .

Time stopped.

Tom pressed on the gate that divided them, but it would not budge.  “Mary!  Mary!  Why didn’t you tell me?  I can’t ride this.  You have to let me go!” Tom pleaded with the guards.

“Sir, you know our policy.  We can’t let you through.  You have no choice but to go down the slide,” said the park manager.  Mary raised her hand and motioned for Tom to go.  Then she held her stomach and walked away with her eyes toward the sky.  Tom watched her disappear into the crowd, from behind bars.  “Please, sir, I need you to move forward.”

Twenty minutes of steady upward flow left Tom alone with his thoughts, and that much closer to the top of the slide.  At first, he tried looking for Mary through the barricades.  All of his cares were on her, and more specifically, her news.  His misconceptions about her refusal to join him had washed away in a moment of truth, leaving behind only anxiety and endless questions.  But with each step up, each step nearer the mouth of Free Fall, Tom’s concerns drifted toward himself.  So by the time he had spent twenty minutes on the other side of the Point of No Return, Tom had all but forgotten about the unborn.

A bald man with a muscular build stood ahead of Tom.  The back of his head was red, and beads of sweat took turns trying to cool his scorched skin.  Tom stared, and probably knew this man’s head better than anyone else in the world.  It was something for his eyes while he waded in his emotions.

Behind Tom, a young woman whistled the tune of Oh My Darling, Clementine.

“Maybe you shouldn’t whistle that song,” Tom said.

“Excuse me?’ She replied.

“Don’t you know what happens to Clementine?” He asked.

“Who cares?  Geez, if it’s bothering you, I’ll stop,” she said, with the slightest hint of sarcasm.   “It’s just a tune to a song no one knows, anyway.”

“I’m sorry if I upset you.  Please, keep whistling,” Tom said.  The young woman shook her head.

“You kind of spoiled the mood.  Anyway, it doesn’t matter.  We’re almost there.”  She pointed past the bald man’s head and to the final stretch of the climb.

The summit of Free Fall can only be accessed by a gondola lift.  Three passengers at a time are transported the remaining distance.  Hovering hundreds of feet in the air, they are provided with a spectacular view of the entire park.  When Tom stepped into the gondola, the heavy stench of rotten eggs assaulted him.   The odor was so terrible that it nearly prevented him from imagining the cables snapping and the box dropping forever.  He wondered if the water slide would smell the same.

The young woman clung to the metal bar lining the inside while the bald man knocked on the windows.

“This is it!” yelled the bald man.

“It’s almost over,” said the woman.

Tom said nothing, but thought of Mary somewhere distant.

Finally, and with a screech, the door opened.  Tom’s nostrils burned.

The bald man burst out of the gondola and jumped head first into the black abyss that was Free Fall.  For only a moment, the others heard his deep voice until it faded into nothing.

“That’s ill advised.”  Tom hadn’t noticed the old man, or his southern twang, until he spoke.  He wore an unbuttoned plaid shirt with the sleeves rolled up past his elbows.  A half-smoked cigar rested on his gums, and he twirled it with slender, gray fingers.  His silver hair fell to his shoulders and waved in the breeze.  He looked out through sunglasses that were darker than death at night, and motioned for the young woman.

“The time for chosin’ is over..."  Illustration by Nathan King
“The time for chosin’ is over…”
Illustration by Nathan King

“I’m having second thoughts!” She yelled.  The old man blew smoke out of his nostrils and smiled from ear to ear.

“The time for chosin’ is over, little lady.   Now you lay down there and that’ll be that,” said the old man.

“What if I don’t want to?” She asked.

“Well, then we have us a problem.” The old man stepped toward the young woman.  “Most people want out.  It’s plain old-fashioned human nature.  I know it.  You know it.  But we’re beyond that nonsense now.”

When the young woman tried to jump back into the gondola, the doors shut and the cables took it away.  Tom saw her eyes widen as she shivered and shuffled toward the entrance of Free Fall.

“That’s right.  Remember, you’re supposed to enjoy this,” said the old man.  He helped her get into the proper position, with arms folded across the chest.  Ash fell on her forehead.  She didn’t make a sound when he pushed her down.

“Alright, last of all, it’s you.  Step up here, and that’ll be the end of it,” said the old man.

Tom didn’t move.  He simply gazed into the old man’s crackled complexion.  Deep lines crisscrossed his face, disappearing down into his sunken chest.  If he wasn’t dressed like a man, Tom thought, he would be only a wrinkled thing.  A great terror rippled out of his heart, filling his veins with despair and washing his mind in dread.  All wrong. It’s all wrong, Tom repeated to himself.   He was a child, huddled in a dark corner.

“I’m sorry.  Please let me go back,” Tom said.

“Son, I don’t have the patience for this.  It’s time for you to go down the slide, so let’s go,” said the old man.

“No,” Tom said breathlessly.  The old man threw his cigar to the ground.

“I have all authority to throw you down this slide!  Now come here!”

The old man reached out his long arms to grab Tom.  Tom wrapped his hands around the old man’s wrists and tried to toss him back, but he could not resist the forward momentum.  The old man wrapped his hands around Tom’s neck and opened his mouth, as if to swallow him whole.  Tom desperately swiped at the old man’s sunglasses.  Two empty sockets glared back at him, and the old man smiled as his grip tightened.  Locked together, they both fell  into the dark pit of the slide.  Tom let go of the old man, and everything else, as he plummeted without ever touching the sides.

A twisted figure splashed down at the bottom.  He stood up in shallow water and turned around.  There he waited, a long time, for the other one to come out.  Reaching blindly, he found something.  It was a watch — ticking away.

A Short Story: End of the Line (Part 1 of 2)

End of the Line

by David Lavallee

Illustrations by Nathan King

He had been standing in line for what seemed like ages. Looking at his watch, he was reminded that it had died. Checking the time was a nervous tick, and no matter how often he looked, it would always be three thirty-three. The park was flooded with people, and their raised voices mixed inharmoniously in the scorching August air. From time to time he would attempt to eavesdrop on a nearby conversation, but it demanded too much concentration. His focus was elsewhere. The slide captured his attention.

Adamson’s Water Park attracted hoards of customers during the summer season. It housed a wave pool with an artificial white sand beach. People from all walks of life fought for a spot along the fake shore. Most days, young men and women dominated the landscape, driven by a primal need to showcase their bodies. Families and older couples retreated to the picnic tables. Circling the park, a slow-moving river carried laid-back patrons who rested on tubes. It served as an escape for anyone wishing to dodge the crowds. A number of small water slides attracted children, and anyone looking for a safe thrill. A step up from those, Adamson’s provided larger slides for the more adventurous. They each scored a seven on the ride intensity scale established by the Society of Amusement Park Standards (SAPS). But none of these rides compared to Free Fall. Free Fall scored a ten plus, which is the highest intensity rating in the world. Riders disappeared into a dark tunnel, dropping so fast that the name of the slide became terribly appropriate. It was impossible to tell where they came out on the other side. Free Fall towered over the park, casting a long shadow from entrance to exit.

“Let’s just forget it, Tom. The line’s too long. We’ve been waiting forever, and my stomach’s upset.” Mary rubbed her exposed mid-section. Tom checked his watch again. “Stop that! Why’d you even wear that thing?” Mary asked.

“I…I guess I didn’t think. Force of habit,” Tom replied. For a moment, he considered Mary’s plea to give up waiting. Just for a moment. “We’ve waited this long. The choice was made back there.” He pointed past hundreds of people. Mary scowled.

They were at least a couple of hours away, and they had already waited for one. Free Fall only allows for one rider every thirty seconds, and that is when everything operates smoothly. Some people decide in the final moment that they want to turn back, but that is not an option. Once the Point of No Return is crossed, all riders enter into a contract with the park that says they have to go down the slide. If they panic and cause a disturbance, the slide operators have the authority to force them down. The park depends on a steady flow of bodies. This is the reason minors are forbidden from Free Fall. Only adults with the power to choose for themselves are allowed to cross the final threshold.

“I don’t think I can go through with it. My stomach is really starting to turn over,” Mary said.

“I think it’s in your head. You don’t want to go down the slide. I get it. Wait until we reach the Point of No Return, and then leave if you have to.” Tom wiped the sweat from his forehead and felt the radiating burn of a distant sun. Then he looked at his watch again.

Mary often faced the accusation from Tom that she never seemed to follow anything through to completion. She always had an excuse to give up. When Tom first proposed, she claimed that she needed more time to decide. A year later, when he proposed again, she told him that she no longer believed in the institution of marriage. “Can’t we love each other without wearing shackles?” She protested. Tom heartily disagreed with her newfound philosophy. “There’s freedom in binding,” he assured her. But all she could say was, “That makes no sense!”

During the next half hour, Tom and Mary observed their surroundings. A pigeon pecked at a dropped pretzel, and Tom wondered if it was true that birds were unable to pass gas. He recalled a conversation from his youth in which another boy claimed to have fed a seagull some Alka-Seltzer. The boy stuffed it in some bait and watched the bird eat without a care. He laughed with delight to see the bird crash into the ocean, dying from the inside. Mary watched a little girl eat a strawberry ice cream cone. The ice cream dribbled down the cone and covered the girl’s hands. Why doesn’t she wipe it up? Mary thought. The girl ate, showing little concern for the sticky pink fluid that flowed down her sleeve. An old clown caught their attention when he accidentally popped a balloon animal. Neither Tom nor Mary had ever seen a clown fail at such a simple trick, and though they despised clowns, it made them feel sorry for the elderly man behind the red nose. They felt worse when his audience of captivated children began to sob. One girl screamed, “It’s dead! He killed it!” The clown fled the scene, forgetting his bag.

"Some people decide in the final moment that they want to turn back, but that is not an option. "  By Nathan King
“Some people decide in the final moment that they want to turn back, but that is not an option. ” Illustration by Nathan King

The couple moved closer to the Point of No Return. No one could mistake it. The park went to great lengths to ensure that their customers knew the arrangement. In bold blue letters it read, NO TURNING BACK. MUST GO FORWARD. ABSOLUTELY NO EXCEPTIONS. Along the way, they posted many smaller signs describing their ride policy. Tom read one of them aloud to Mary. “Free Fall is the most thrilling water slide in the world. Because of this, it attracts hundreds of thousands of committed riders. Adamson’s Water Park is focused on providing the most people with the most fun. We created the Point of No Return as a means to maximize fun. We understand that many would reconsider riding Free Fall once they reached the top. This would create massive delays and much disturbance, which would severely tarnish the experience of the other riders. The Point of No Return is exactly that. If you cannot commit, please consider any of our other fun water slides. If you are serious about having a good time, pass the Point of No Return and prepare to have a blast.”

“What did you eat that made your stomach upset?” Tom asked.

“Nothing but an egg and some toast. I eat it all the time,” Mary said.

“Maybe it was a bad egg. We’re only a few minutes away. Are you in or out?” Mary held her stomach. Tom moved close to her face, as if to kiss her, and whispered, “I want you to go up with me.”

Adamson’s used to station low-level employees at the threshold, but found that they were often too lenient with riders. They lacked the authority to prevent people from breaking their contract to ride. Once people had discovered that the Point of No Return was less than it claimed to be, the occurrence of disruptions skyrocketed. Free Fall experienced massive ride delays, which forced the park to get more serious. The entrance is now guarded by a park manager and a member of the security unit. Since the change, only one person has come back through the threshold: a sixty-three year old woman who dropped dead of a heart attack.

“I don’t know, I don’t think I should do this,” Mary said. Tom rolled his eyes and looked away. They were only a few paces away from the final threshold. “I really can’t.”

“And why can’t you? Is it because your stomach hurts, or because you’re afraid?” Tom asked sternly. He stood at the entrance of the Point of No Return. The two park officials looked at him, arms folded. “Just come with me!” Tom yelled.

“I can’t! Go, but I’m not. I shouldn’t,” Mary said as tears formed in her eyes.

“Sir, are you riding Free Fall, or are you turning around? You have to decide immediately,” said the park manager. Tom peered back at Mary, who now had tears streaming down her face, and then took the final step through the threshold.

“Ma’am, are you going to join him?” asked the security guard. The couple gazed at each other, separated by an impassable gulf.

“No,” Mary said. “I’m pregnant.”

(To be continued…)

Stork Raving Mad: Wednesday’s Free Write

While taking a Creative Writing class in college, I was asked by the professor to spend an hour each day writing fiction.  It could be about anything I wanted.  The point of the exercise was to get used to writing on a daily basis.  After many years of being lost on one of my thumb drives, I have recovered them.  

 

Stork Raving Mad

The wedding far exceeded my expectations, and I can say with confidence that Sarah felt the same.  Her white dress received nothing but compliments from both sides of the family. I have already wasted too much time writing about the dress, and this is nowhere near where I want to go.  A far better way to start this tale would be to say that when a man and a woman fall in love, they want to express their feelings physically.  Unfortunately, certain things can get in the way.

We arrived at our suite on the island of St. Lucia after a long flight featuring two feature-length films starring Carrot Top.  As a believer in Karma, I saw this as a sure sign that the honeymoon would not disappoint.  The week the Reese’s Big Cup appeared in stores, for example, I lost my job and the ability to perform simple math equations.  Interestingly enough, I was re-hired the day after switching over from Skippy to Jif when I calculated that the change would save me well over forty thousand dollars in the course of my lifetime.

After an entirely satisfying meal, Sarah and I rushed back to our room to engage in some marital relations.  Unfortunately, very unfortunately, we were stopped.

The giant stork was at least considerate enough to knock on the window.  I slowly rose out of bed in order to investigate the situation.  Incredibly, he spoke to us, and in our native tongue.

“It is vital that I speak to the both of you this evening,” he said.  I, like anyone else in such a position, froze in disbelief.   “You must not keep on what you’re planning.”

“Who are you?” I bravely asked.

“I am The Stork.  I’m in charge of delivering human babies to the world,” he said.  Sarah sat up in the bed, since the subject of children sparked her interest.

“You can’t possibly exist,” she said.

web_flying_white_stork

“I’ve heard it so many times over the years.  You see, when you’re children you discover the truth early on.  You find out where babies come from, and they come from me.  For some reason, when you get a little older you start believing that babies come as the result of sexual reproduction.  And, let me just say, that is the silliest fallacy you people have ever created.”  Now I knew it was a dream, or at very least a hallucination.

“Alright then, what about pregnant women?  What about the fact that children often resemble their parents?  What about all of those births in hospitals?”  I knew he could not reply to these with anything reasonable.

“Your minds couldn’t possibly comprehend the complexities of this illusion.  If I even hinted at the truth of it, you would surely fall dead where you’re standing.  All I’ll say is that the very idea that humans have complete control over the creation of life is laughable.”   I found it quite convenient that he dodged any true explanations, but I went along with him.

“Fine, then why are you here?  If sex has nothing to do with it, why are you here?”  The Stork then shattered the window with his beak and crawled through the opening.  Sarah and I shrunk back into the covers.  He stood, over six feet, at the foot of our bed, with wings fully spread.

“I can’t take it anymore!  Your son waits in the wings.  I’m breaking the rules.  I’m changing the system that has stood for thousands of years.  Take him.  Take him now, and don’t ask me any questions.”  At that moment, he tossed the baby boy at Sarah, who caught it in the sheets.  In a flurry of feathers he escaped through the window.  I watched him fly into the night sky before vanishing in a flash of light.

There’s a lot I don’t know, but I do know that before our honeymoon there were two of us, but after our honeymoon there were three of us.  Two plus three equals five.  That means we need to buy more peanut butter.  I am not concerned about financially supporting my ever-growing family.  If one jar brings in forty grand, then three jars will support all five of my kids for the rest of their lives.

Saturday

“Oh no, I’m all out of money,” said one of Peter’s customers.

“Well, that’s the way the cookie crumbles,” Peter responded.   Upon hearing those words, the customer jumped over the counter. He pummeled Peter’s face until there was only blood and clumps of flesh. Dozens of witnesses looked on in horror.

At another location, moments later, another fatal exchange occurred.

“There are still large chunks of cookie in here,” said a customer.

“That’s how the cookie crumbles, sir,” replied an employee.  The man pulled out a knife in front of his children, and stabbed the employee thirty times in the chest and head.

At the end of this day, an employee at every cookie crumbling shop in the world met a bloody end.   Peter Crumb’s wife turned to food for comfort after her husband’s death.  She died when her stomach exploded after eating twelve pounds of cookie dough.

More than a hundred years later, experts are still searching for a reason why that catchphrase had such a negative effect on everyone who heard it.  Some believe it to be a curse on the Crumb family.  Peter’s great grandfather had saved a small community from an evil warlock by sealing him in an ancient tomb.  The warlock apparently put a spell on all of his descendants before rats gnawed his face off.  Others insist that it was purely coincidence.

Wizard

What do I think?  I think there was something in those cookies.  It also explains how Mrs. Crumb ate herself to death.  She needed them so badly that she could not wait for them to cook.  All of the killer customers faced some setback in their cookie eating experience.  The catchphrase merely pushed them over the edge.  Or maybe it was a curse.  Maybe that warlock had a sense of humor.

Free Writing: Monday and Tuesday

While taking a Creative Writing class in college, I was asked by the professor to spend an hour each day writing fiction.  It could be about anything I wanted.  The point of the exercise was to get used to writing on a daily basis.  After many years of being lost on one of my thumb drives, I have recovered them.  

Monday and Tuesday

            We live in a time of professionals.  As children, we want to grow up to be policemen, firemen, astronauts, actors, ballerinas, and of course, any kind of athlete.  We want to be heroes, and sometimes superheroes.  The following is a tale of a profession that has not existed for nearly a century.   During its short existence, it provided the masses with a service that brought happiness to all corners of the globe.  It should have been one the greatest success stories in human history, but it fell victim to the very saying that it created.

Most humans with taste buds know the satisfaction that comes from biting into a good cookie.  Peter Crumb, a British schoolteacher during the late 19th century, appreciated the taste of cookies more than any normal person should.  He spent his weekends perfecting the old family recipe, which called for four sticks of butter and a half pound of chocolate.  On one occasion he was found passed out on the floor after consuming nearly a full pound of batter.  The next day he ate six cookies.

cookie

Peter would have been just another man with a sweet tooth if not for a student named Bill Lewis.  Peter brought in a batch of cookies to class every Monday, which brought a little sunshine to the children.   On one particular day he placed them on the floor in order to clear some room on his desk.  After no more than thirty seconds he heard the sound of a box being flattened.  Bill Lewis slowly lifted his foot from the now crushed container, and turned to face the wrath of his peers.

“Now wait a minute students,” Peter said.  “A cookie in pieces tastes just as good as a cookie whole.”  Brushing off the mud from Bill’s shoe, Peter opened the box to find all them smashed.  “I suppose what we’ll do is reach in for a handful.”  After sharing with the students, Peter took some for himself.

The taste of crumbled cookies elevated Peter to dessert heaven.  From that moment on, he vowed to spread his newly discovered joy to all the people of the world.

When he told his wife that he wanted to open up a cookie crumbling shop, she responded, “That’s an awful idea.  Who would pay for broken cookies?”

“Don’t think of them as broken.  Think of them as reborn, like the phoenix.”

It took nearly two months of convincing, but Peter’s wife inevitably came to support her husband.  They built a modest cookie stand on one of the busier street corners.  The sign read, Crumb’s Cookies, which Peter decided was divine providence since a man cannot choose his own name.  On the menu were four varieties, including chocolate chip, peanut butter, oatmeal raisin, and sugar.  No one requested anything other than whole cookies that first week.

Walking to the cookie stand, one day after school Peter came up with a solution to his crumbling problem.  He removed the sign and replaced it with a new one, which read Crumb The Cookie Crumbler.  Immediately, people asked about crumbling, and Peter sold out his entire batch.  This was the beginning of the phenomenon.

Peter was able to upgrade his stand to an actual store within the first six months of sales.  People from all over Great Britain came to taste his special brand of crumbled delights.  By the next year Peter and his wife were living the high life with more and more shops spreading throughout Europe.  Everyone raved about “the greatest invention since the cookie.”  But, like with most fast rises to fame, the Crumb’s, along with their shops, soon fell hard.

A Common Heart: Part Six + Conclusion

Six


Sam led Ben to the cherry tree. They stood beneath its leafless branches while a frigid breeze stole warmth from their skin. There was silence for many minutes. Ben stared at the tree, but his focus was elsewhere.

“What is it you wish to reveal to me, Mr. Franklin?” Sam finally asked. This was followed by another awful silence. “Are you well, sir?”

“Do you believe in God?” Ben asked. Sam was caught off guard.

“I believe in God.”

“Do you believe in his son?” Ben asked, coldly.

“Yes, I do.” Sam replied.

“And who can blame you? I do not. I envy simple people like you. And it is the simplicity of it all that prevents me from accepting any of it.”

“But, why should something so important be difficult to understand?” Sam asked. Ben removed his left hand from his pocket.

“When they ate of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, God made every effort to keep them from the Tree of Life. He feared what they would become. Why would God fear a man?”

“It was not fear, but compassion. It was love. If they had obtained eternal life in such a fallen and corrupt state…”

The void denied him any more words. It denied him any more breath. It denied him any more warmth. Ben’s hand smothered Sam’s mouth, which almost instantly caused it to become devoid of any moisture. This effect spread throughout Sam’s body. Ben closed his eyes to avoid the terror, and instead focused on the incredible life energy that flowed into his being. Clearly, this young man had much to live for.

When the flow of energy ceased, Ben opened his eyes to see the gray corpse of Sam Joy fall to the ground. He held up his newly strengthened hands. The dark mark on his left hand was gone. The void had its fill.

Ben rolled up his sleeves and felt his revitalized skin and muscles. He then ran his fingers through his hair, which had become thicker. After that, he jumped into the air, which he had not been able to do for many years. Finally, he felt his pulse. His heart beat slow and strong. He felt no guilt. He was far beyond guilt.

From a distance, Ben heard George Washington’s cry. He had hoped to make an escape, but neglected to notice that George could see everything from the window in his office.

“What did you do? This is an abomination!” George raged. He did not need to check for Sam’s vital signs. He knew death.

“I did what all men want to do.” Ben said with conviction. “It’s deep in the race to desire life.”

“You killed a boy! He was going to be married tomorrow. This is a monstrosity. No form of vengeance would satisfy the cry for justice here. You deserve more than death.” George pulled out a dagger.

“I would not do that General. He was surely a decent man, but only decent. You and I make up the Minority of the Gifted. We must take more because we give more.”

“His wife…how could this be allowed to happen? Damn you! This man was greater than you.” George took a step closer. Ben smiled.

“Perhaps, you are not as great as they say, Mr. President!”

Ben sprinted at George, who did not have the reaction speed to make a timely thrust. Ben simultaneously gained possession of the dagger and knocked the wind out of George with his elbow. Unable to breathe, George could not regain his composure before Ben grabbed both of his arms to drag him near the cherry tree.

The dagger pierced George’s hand, and the full width of the tree. George cried out in agony.

“I did not expect it to go all the way through. I cannot imagine the pain, but I want to say some things before I kill you.” Ben began to pace. “First of all, know that I did not want anyone to die today. Death is merely a consequence of a simple desire to live. Oh, do not try to remove that. You could not possibly tear it from there. You may be wondering how I was able to accomplish any of this. An old friend came to me and offered some secret knowledge regarding the nature of life and death. Only a fool would turn from the path of life and knowledge. You see, I am getting quite old, or was, I should say. What accomplishments can a dead man achieve? What influence does a dead man have?”

A soul melting shriek stabbed Ben’s ears. Turning to the source of the sound, he caught the image of a woman running toward Sam’s body. Although he had never laid eyes on her, Ben knew that this woman was named Rose. He felt his heart through his chest.

“Sam…Sam…Sam.” Rose collapsed over his body. She did not consider the two other men.

Ben began a slow march in her direction. His pulse intensified with every step.

George pulled at the dagger with his free hand, but to no avail. He considered the horror of witnessing the murder of his friend’s love, and it overrode the tremendous physical pain he felt. At all costs, he had to stop him. Pulling again, with all of his strength, he slid his wounded hand down the blade until it stopped at the base. With the effort of both hands, he tore the dagger from the tree.

Ben was now standing over the woman and her fallen love. His entire body pulsated with every heartbeat. He knew this woman had to die.

George held the dagger in a striking position.

Rose looked up into Ben’s eyes. At that moment, he fell to his knees, dead from within.

George dropped the dagger. The woman gazed into his eyes, and neither of them said a word as the sun set on the horizon.

 

Seven

 

George climbed into bed, long after Martha. He spent most evenings sitting alone in quiet reflection. Martha often tried to speak with him regarding the events of that day, but he always turned her away. She understood that time can sometimes be the only cure for matters of the heart, but she also understood that it can help the process by opening up to someone else.

“George, I want you to know that I love you. We do not say it often, but I wanted to tell you.” George turned to his wife.

“I love you too, Martha. I wish…I want to tell you what happened.”

“It is time, I think.” Martha said. George sat up.

“I have already told you about Ben’s dark arts, so there is no need to discuss that awful matter further. What I have not told you is what caused Ben’s death. When I held that poor woman in my arms, she told me that Ben died the instant their eyes met. I have not been able to make sense of this.” George said. Martha sat up with him.

“You told me once that Ben somehow stole the boy’s life force. Imagine that, George. Ben had that boy’s life inside of him. That boy’s heart lived in Ben’s heart, if Ben even had a heart left at that time. He must have been crying out to her from in there. Seeing her eyes must have been too much. I am no authority, but I want to believe that God let that boy go free because the pain was too much to bear.”

“I loved him as a son, Martha.” Rare tears streamed down his face.

“And you have witnessed the power of love. You have seen love conquer death. It must be a comfort to know that the spirit is real, and does in fact live on. There is much we do not understand George, but there is much that we know.”

“Someone once told me that my heart shines with a greater light than my own. Martha, what do you think he meant?”

“Who told you that?” Martha asked.

“An old friend, I believe.”